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Twelve round of 32, Sweet 16 match-ups we crave

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The NCAA tournament is the greatest event in the modern sports calendar. Other postseasons, from the professional ranks to the BCS, are facile when compared to the NCAAs, a tournament with a level of complexity unseen in any other championship setting. Not only do teams have to prep for their first-round opponent, they also have to additionally gameplan for the two teams they may face should they win, contests that happen as short as 48 hours in the future.

Save the 16-1 games, it is hard to predict the other 63 outcomes. While we love those first round games, and have highlighted which ones have attained ‘must see’ status, here are twelve round of 32 and Sweet 16 match-ups we hope materialize in the coming weeks.

MORE: The Dummy’s Guide to filling out a bracket

ROUND OF 32

The winner of No. 5 VCU/No. 12 Stephen F. Austin vs. the winner of No. 4 UCLA/No. 13 Tulsa — South — March 23

This is a great pod, including one squad contending for this year’s ‘Florida Gulf Coast’ distinction (Stephen F. Austin), three teams that like to run (Tulsa, UCLA, and VCU all use 68-plus possessions), and an offense (the Bruins) which thoroughly embarrassed the nation’s stingiest defense. All four programs also sport defensive turnover rates that rank within Ken Pomeroy’s top fifty, and whichever two teams advance to the second round game will engage in an up-tempo, steal-laden affair, so we humbly beseech the assigned officiating crew to swallow their whistles and let those two teams play.

No. 2 Villanova vs. No. 10 Saint Joseph’s — East — March 22

When Villanova traveled roughly seven miles to play Saint Joseph’s in early December, the game’s final score, a 30-point thumping by the Wildcats, gave little indication both teams might meet again in the postseason. However, St. Joe’s is brimming with offensive confidence following their Atlantic 10 tournament title. Langston Galloway (57.5 percent from three during the conference tournament) and Halil Kanacevic (back-to-back double doubles against St. Bonaventure and VCU) are carrying a team that is finally living up to the potential expected of the Hawks a year ago, and freshman DeAndre Bembry could be one of the tournament’s breakout stars. This game could be a classic Big Fiv … er … tourney tilt.

PREVIEWS: East Region | South Region | Midwest Region | West Region

No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 7 New Mexico — South — March 23

Sure, everyone is waiting for New Mexico to again break hearts and exit the tournament early for the second straight season, but UNM has a massive chip on its collective shoulder this year. New Mexico was comically underseeded — apparently beating San Diego State twice (including in the Mountain West title game) and Cincinnati during non-conference play was insignificant to the selection committee — and has one league player of the year (Kendal Williams, 16.4 ppg) and one player of the year snub (Cameron Bairstow, 20.3 ppg). Similarly to last year’s team, UNM continues to relish paint touches, but the current Lobo iteration actually makes those interior looks (51.8 percent, as opposed to 46.1 in 2013). It is unclear whether Kansas big Joel Embiid (8.1 rpg, 2.6 bpg) has recovered from his back injury and will play, a development that could drastically hamper KU’s efforts. While Kansas’ efficiency ratings haven’t budged much without the freshman center, opponents are grabbing 69 percent of KU’s misses (up from 62 percent with Embiid in Big 12 play) and the Jayhawks still struggle to defend without fouling.

No. 1 Arizona vs. the winner of No. 8 Gonzaga/No. 9 Oklahoma State — West — March 23

It is too difficult to pick which match-up we’d like to see more, so we’ll describe both! Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart (17.8 ppg) is in the midst of playing himself back into the hearts of NBA GMs, and a strong showing against the Wildcats could springboard Smart into consideration for a lottery pick. Gonzaga, and particularly its bigs, presents defensive problems for Arizona. Sam Dower (15 ppg, 7.1 rpg) thrives on pick and pop jumpers, and consistently knocks down twos from 10 to 15 feet out, an ability which should create halfcourt spacing for Zaga’s talented guards. The head-to-head potential for TJ McConnnell (Arizona) and Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga) would also be a highlight of a Zona-Zags match-up.

No. 3 Creighton vs. No. 6 Baylor — West — March 23

Baylor recovered from a midseason swoon — the Bears lost two of eight over the course of a month — to reach the Big 12 tournament final, and as neither team plays much defense, this game would be decided by whichever squad scores more points. Baylor’s defense enabled conference opponents to score 1.08 points per possessions, likely the worst defensive efficiency rate of any power six conference at-large team, and though Creighton’s Doug McDermott (26.9 ppg) still needs 500 or so points to catch career scoring leader Pete Maravich, he might come close to the record while playing the Bears. Teams dependent on three-point production typically do very well against Baylor — Scott Drew’s squad allows league opponents to convert nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc — and the Bluejays might also set some shooting records in San Antonio. Kenny Cherry is key for Baylor — the guard, and his 35 percent assist rate (ranked eighteenth nationally), is extremely underrated.

MORE: 8 teams that can win it all | TV times | Bracket contest

No. 3 Syracuse vs. No. 6 Ohio State — South — March 22

Both Ohio State and Syracuse are in dire need of redemption. At certain points of the season, the two programs were considered shoo-ins for the Final Four, and now both have many question marks. Since the Cuse started the year with a 25-0 record, they have lost four of six (which doesn’t include their opening ACC tournament loss), but the presence of freshman Tyler Ennis (12.7 ppg, 5.6 apg) and C.J. Fair (16.7 ppg) cannot be discounted. The Buckeyes nearly made the Big Ten tournament final, and appear to have righted themselves, but how far can a stellar defense carry a suspect offense? Even if this game is decided well before the final buzzer, the match-up of Aaron Craft against Ennis will be satisfying.

No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 6 North Carolina — East — March 23

Fans of fast-breaks — which, aren’t we all? — will love this pairing. The Cyclones and Tar Heels are listed thirteenth and eighteenth, respectively, in Pomeroy’s tempo rankings, and we again hope the officiating crew lets this contest play out. As expected for two teams that each use more than 70 possessions per game, both are led by stellar backcourts, including UNC’s Marcus Paige, a 6-foot-1 guard who takes an equal amount of twos (49 percent of his 200 attempts) and threes (39.1 percent of his 202 attempts), and DeAndre Kane, a Cyclones guard who plays basketball like a running back, ping-ponging off defenders until finishing at the rim.

No. 4 San Diego State vs. No. 12 North Dakota State — West — March 22

Of all the NBA prospects in this year’s tournament field, North Dakota State’s Taylor Braun is the most interesting. The 6-foot-7 forward is the prototypical stretch-4, primarily operating within the arc (51 percent from two) but possessing the capability to convert from the perimeter (42.2 percent from deep). Since San Diego State is one of the tourney’s stingiest teams, how Braun fares against a defense which easily handcuffs an opposing player’s scoring will be closely monitored.

SWEET 16

No. 1 Wichita State vs. No. 4 Louisville — Midwest

It is universally agreed that Wichita State received the toughest draw of any number one seed in recent memory, and it isn’t a foregone conclusion that the Shockers will even reach the second weekend, but if Gregg Marshall’s squad does face Louisville, the rematch of last year’s Final Four will be entertaining. This is a much stronger Shocker squad — Fred VanVleet (5.3 apg) is a pass-first point guard propelling a more offensively efficient team (1.15 PPP, as compared to 1.07 in 2013) — and one used to the Cardinals’ trademark defensive intensity. Louisville shouldn’t have been a top seed, but like New Mexico, UL was unfairly underseeded. The improved play from Montrezl Harrell (61.4 percent from two), Luke Hancock (32 percent from three since February 1st), and the continued stellar offensive performance from Russ Smith (52 percent from two, 41 percent from three, and an assist rate of 32 percent) could prove a challenging match-up for WSU’s grinding and physical defense.

No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA — South

Much like the Pac-12 final, this contest would pair a top-rated defense against an otherworldly offense. UCLA’s Kyle Anderson (14.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg) has proven to be arguably the nation’s most challenging cover, but Florida coach Billy Donovan has numerous options at his disposal to blank Anderson, including the uber-athletic Casey Prather and Michael Frazier II.

No. 3 Duke vs. No. 2 Michigan — Midwest
A rematch from earlier this season, Duke was able to easily dispatch the Wolverines and their ridiculously efficient offense. However, UM has made some subtle tweaks to further offensive production — for starters, Nik Stauskas (17.5 ppg) has left the corner and now plays more on the ball; Caris LeVert, the team’s best iso option, now attempts the third highest percentage of shots — and despite their performance in the Big Ten tournament final, reprising this non-conference tilt could result in a Sweet 16 classic.

No 1. Arizona vs. No. 4 San Diego State — West

Highly ranked defenses combined with world class athletes who thrive both in transition and in the halfcourt. This game fills all the requirements for a GOAT Sweet 16 match-up. The defining match-up could be SDSU’s Josh Davis against the Wildcats’ frontcourt. Davis went from severely underrated at Tulane to now the Aztecs’ interior anchor, so while his efficiency has slipped (which isn’t a knock on Davis — he just gets fewer touches than he did at Tulane), his ability to battle with Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon will help deflect defensive pressure and haul in crucial additional possessions.

No. 11 Oregon blows by Cal, but Dillon Brooks leaves with “lower left leg injury”

Oregon Ducks forward Dillon Brooks (24), collides in the first half against California in an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 20, 2016, in Eugene, Ore. Brooks later left the game with an injury on a different play. (AP Photo/Thomas Boyd)
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Oregon defeated Cal on Thursday. The score was 86-63. That hardly matters, though, considering what else occurred in Eugene.

Ducks star Dillon Brooks left the game with a “lower left leg injury,” which is particularly ominous considering it was a surgically repaired left foot that sidelined Brooks all summer and kept him from joining Oregon on the floor until mid-November.

As of Thursday evening, there was no specific clarification, leaving only questions not only about Brooks’ health but what Oregon will have to potentially do without him.

The Ducks can win without Brooks. They went 8-1 before Brooks ever logged 30 minutes in a game and blasted Washington State in Pullman when Brooks got ejected after just seven minutes. They didn’t need him to dismantle the Bears, shooting 58 percent from the floor for the game and 54.2 percent without him in the second half. Jordan Bell made 11 of 12 shots for a career-best 26 points, and three other Ducks scored in double figures.

It wouldn’t be ideal, but Oregon could tread water to a high seed with him missing a chunk of time as they’ve shown at different times throughout this season. The Ducks only have one matchup left with both UCLA and Arizona, coming back-to-back in the first week of February.

But if it’s a serious injury, it necessitates a recalibration of expectation for Oregon.

Brooks scored 23 and had the game-winner as the Ducks handled No. 3 UCLA its lone loss this season and had 28 points when they blew out then-No. 22 USC to end December. Brooks is too talented, too versatile and too important for a prolonged absence to be meaningfully weathered. The NCAA tournament just too often demands too much from teams to be without a player of Brooks’ caliber.

For Oregon to reach the heights that many predicted for it since last spring, Brooks has to be on the floor.

The wait for the diagnosis and prognosis, not just for Brooks but for Oregon’s season, is on.

After win at Iowa, what’s to be made of No. 25 Maryland?

Maryland guard Anthony Cowan is fouled by Iowa forward Ryan Kriener, right, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in Iowa City, Iowa. Maryland won 84-76. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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Maryland, after an 84-76 win at Iowa, now stands at 5-1 in the Big Ten. The Terps are the only team in the league with five conference wins and are tied with Wisconsin in the loss column atop the Big Ten.

Is it time to start taking them seriously as Big Ten title contenders?

It just might be, less so for who Maryland is proving to be but, in part, for how the schedule lays out for the Terps.

The resume right now isn’t overly impressive, other than sheer volume of wins at 16. There’s the loss at home to Nebraska for one thing, but they haven’t been overly convincing in a win since their opener against Illinois.

Many of their issues were on display against the Hawkeyes, a team that has lodged a number of good wins but still shows loads of inconsistency with a roster heavily dependent upon freshmen. Maryland led by 15 in the first half and held a double-digit lead well into the second half. Then, as carelessness set in, it was gone with just over 6 minutes to play and the Terps trailed with as little as 3 minutes left.

Turnovers were nearly the Terps’ undoing. They committed 21 of them that led to 30 points for the Hawkeyes, who are hardly known for turning opponents over. Maryland, though, has consistently failed to take care of the ball with a turnover rate hovering around 20 percent.

What saved them against Iowa was, what (or who) else, than Melo Trimble. One of the game’s most clutch players, Trimble hit back-to-back 3s after Maryland fell behind to turn a three-point disadvantage into a three-point lead that the Terps wouldn’t hand back to a feisty Iowa squad. Trimble finished with 20 points, five rebounds and five assists.

So, 21 turnovers and a blown lead salvaged only by Trimble’s heroics doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in a team with as many question marks as Maryland, even if it came on the road.

The Terps, though, do keep winning and while close games do invite luck and chance into the equation, Trimble’s presence and Maryland’s track record suggests it may be able to survive the variance.

Then you’ve got to look at that schedule. They’ve got Rutgers at home before a tricky Minnesota-Ohio State road trip. Then of the Big Ten teams currently with two losses or less, Maryland gets Purdue and Michigan State at home and has just one game apiece against Wisconsin and Northwestern, though both are away from College Park.

So while it may be hard to fully buy in to Maryland given its so-so offense and unremarkable defense, the Terps have made it nearly to the end of January with just two losses and have a manageable road ahead.

That’s something that has to be taken into account, just like Maryland in the Big Ten.

Ohio’s Antonio Campbell to miss season with foot injury

SPOKANE, WA - MARCH 22:  Head coach Saul Phillips of the North Dakota State Bison reacts in the first half against the San Diego State Aztecs during the Third Round of the 2014 NCAA Basketball Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on March 22, 2014 in Spokane, Washington.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The MAC race just took a turn, as Ohio’s star forward Antonio Campbell will miss the rest of the season with a broken bone in his foot.

Campbell, who was the best player in the conference, was averaging 16.4 points and 8.9 boards.

“We feel awful for Tony,” said head coach Saul Phillips. “Sick to our stomach. We wish him nothing but a speedy and full recovery. We are proud of all that he’s accomplished while wearing a Bobcat uniform and thank him for his many contributions to our program.”

Ohio is 11-5 on the season and 3-2 in the MAC.

Indiana’s OG Anunoby out indefinitely with knee injury

Indiana's OG Anunoby (3) dunks in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against the Michigan in the quarterfinals at the Big Ten Conference tournament, Friday, March 11, 2016, in Indianapolis. Michigan won 72-69. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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The exact extent and specific diagnosis of the injury suffered by Indiana sophomore OG Anunoby isn’t yet public, but the Hoosiers offered a brief update Thursday.

“OG sustained a knee injury this past Wednesday night’s game against Penn State and is in the midst of ongoing medical evaluations,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said in a statement released by the school. “He will be out indefinitely.”

Anunoby went down clutching his knee late in the first half against the Nittany Lions and did not return, with many fearing the severity of the injury after Crean delivered an emotional post-game interview following Indiana’s three-point win.

The 6-foot-8 forward has largely been considered a potential lottery pick in this June’s NBA draft. He’s averaged 11.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game this season.

Indiana’s first game back is Saturday at home against Michigan State followed by road games against Michigan and Northwestern the following week. The Hoosiers are 13-6 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten.

Report: Villanova and UConn set to renew series

Villanova's Kyle Lowry (1) goes up for a shot over Connecticut's Josh Boone (21) Monday, February 13, 2006 at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, PA. Villanova University (4) upset University of Connecticut (1) 69-64. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
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Another former Big East Rivalry will be renewed soon.

Villanova and Connecticut are set to resume a home-and-home series next year, according to FanRag Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

The Huskies will host the first game of the series with the return game coming in 2018, though exact dates and venues have not yet been set.

Since the Big East split in recent years, the two teams have met once, in the 2014 NCAA tournament when the Huskies went on to win a national championship.

UConn played Syracuse earlier this year while the Orange also took on St. John’s and Georgetown in a rematch of former Big East rivals now spread across the realignment landscape.

While the new iteration of the Big East is as strong as its best since the basketball schools bolted – with the Wildcats the defending champions and Creighton and Xavier both having big years – it’s encouraging to see that the classic matchups  of the old Big East aren’t being completely abandoned in this new era of hoops, not only for nostalgia purposes but because they remain some of the best brands and programs in the sport.